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AMERICAN UNIV. v. PRENTISS

June 29, 1953

AMERICAN UNIVERSITY et al.
v.
PRENTISS et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOLTZOFF

This is an action to set aside an order of the Zoning Commission of the District of Columbia, which re-zoned the campus of the American University, located in Washington, D.C., from a residential 'A' area to a residential 'A restricted' area. The effect of this reclassification was to preclude the building of a proposed hospital on the campus, which is to be maintained in conjunction with a School of Nursing. The action is brought by the American University; Lucy Webb Hayes National Training School for Deaconesses and Missionaries, a corporation conducting the Lucy Webb Hayes School of Nursing and Sibley Memorial Hospital; and Equitable Life Insurance Company, which holds a deed of trust on the land of the University. The defendants are the five members of the Zoning Commission of the District of Columbia. Certain property owners have intervened and have been aligned with the defendants. It is claimed by the plaintiffs that the order in question is unconstitutional and illegal.

Shortly before the turn of the century, a Bishop of the Methodist Church purchased a large tract of land comprising over seventy acres for the purpose of establishing thereon an institution of higher learning to be known as the American University. The property is located near the western end of Massachusetts Avenue, one of the principal through highways of the city of Washington, running diagonally from east to west. The site was at that time in an outlying section, and both the projected campus and the surrounding area were practically a wilderness. The campus has a frontage on Massachusetts Avenue of about fifteen hundred feet in length. It is bounded on the east by Nebraska Avenue, also an important through thoroughfare, to the extent of over eighteen hundred feet. The line on the west is about twenty-three hundred feet long. University Avenue, which is only partially cut through, forms a part of the western boundary. On the south the land adjoins what are now Glenwood Road and Rockwood Parkway. The American University was chartered by a special Act of Congress. The campus site was cleared and buildings for the use of the University were gradually erected. Various departments and schools were established from time to time. From small beginnings, the University has expanded and reached an important stature among higher educational institutions. By this time it has a large enrollment of students and a considerable number of buildings. Portions of the campus still remain vacant, however, some of them containing wooded areas.

 In 1920 the zoning system was introduced in the District of Columbia, and a Zoning Commission, composed of five members, was created to administer the zoning statute. D.C. Code, Title 5, Sections 412 et seq. The Commission subdivided the city into districts of various types. The American University campus and the surrounding area were classified as 'A' residential. The regulations provided that in such a district there could be erected not only private dwellings and apartment houses, but also such structures as hotels, hospitals, sanitariums, clinics, churches, clubs, and the like.

 It is important to note that the owners of the residences in Wesley Heights and Spring Valley purchased their property long after the American University was established and commenced its operations as an institution of higher learning, and even some time after the University campus was given its original zoning. The owners must have assumed that the University would keep growing and expanding and would create additional schools and departments, and that new buildings would be constructed on the campus from time to time to carry on activities suitable to a great University. They are also charged with knowledge that a hospital may be built in a section classified as a residential 'A' area.

 The second plaintiff, Lucy Webb Hayes National Training School for Deaconesses and Missionaries, is also a corporation under the aegis of the Methodist Church. It operates and conducts Sibley Memorial Hospital and the Lucy Webb Hayes School of Nursing in conjunction with each other. At the present time Sibley Hospital, which is one of the large hospitals in the city of Washington, is housed in structures approximately fifty years old, and is located in a congested, deteriorated section. It badly needs new buildings as well as removal to a more desirable neighborhood, both from the standpoint of its patients and the interests of the young women who are studying to become nurses. In fact the enrollment of its student nurses has been falling off due to the undesirable location of the school.

 Recently the American University, desiring to establish a School of Nursing on a collegiate level, entered into an arrangement with the Lucy Webb Hayes School of Nursing and Sibley Memorial Hospital, whereby the two institutions last mentioned would be moved to the American University campus and become an integral part of the University. A site at approximately the southeast corner of the campus, comprising 7.85 acres, was set aside by the University for that purpose and accepted by the authorities controlling the school and the hospital. The Congress has authorized certain grants in aid to be made for the construction of several hospitals in this city because of a lack of adequate, modern hospital facilities in the Nation's Capital. It was expected that one of the grants would be made for the construction of the new Sibley Memorial Hospital on the proposed site.

 The new Sibley Hospital is to be located at the southern tip of the campus, immediately adjoining the residential districts known as Wesley Heights and Spring Valley, which have been described above. The new hospital would in fact be situated almost directly across the street from several of the homes, although there would be a considerable setback.

 A number of property owners in that area emphatically objected to the proposed new hospital as a neighbor and filed a petition with the Zoning Commission to re-zone the American University campus, in order to prevent the erection of such an institution. The Zoning Commission held a hearing, as required by statute. Unfortunately, the atmosphere of the proceeding was not conducive to calm deliberation. Several organized bus loads of angry property owners filled the hearing room, and frequently interrupted witnesses and counsel by booing and hissing, or applauding.

 It is well established that administrative agencies are not required to apply the rules of law governing admissibility of evidence. These rules are binding only on judicial tribunals. Nevertheless, the probative weight of evidence is the same, irrespective of where the evidence is introduced, and must be tested by the same standards whether it is tendered to a court or to an administrative body.

 As a result of the hearing, the Zoning Commission, by a vote of three to two, issued an order changing the entire campus of the American University from residential 'A' area to residential 'A restricted' area. No findings were made. No statement of reasons was issued. The result of this shift in zoning was that a hospital may not be built on the American University campus. If the order stands, the proposed arrangement between the American University, Sibley Hospital, and the School of Nursing cannot be carried out. It must be emphatically noted that although the testimony given at the hearing before the Commission and at the trial of this case, was directed largely to the effects of the erection of a hospital on the proposed site immediately adjoining Wesley Heights and Spring Valley, nevertheless, the re-zoning order made by the Commission covers the entire American University campus, over seventy acres in size. Much of the campus is a considerable distance from these residential districts.

 The evidence shows that schools of nursing and medical schools are natural constituent departments of many universities, and that modern educational methods require that schools of nursing and medical schools be connected with hospitals operated in conjunction with and auxiliary to them. In many instances, schools of nursing and medical schools with cooperating hospitals are located on the university campus, as is the case, for example with Georgetown University, which is also situated in the city of Washington. On the other hand, there are some universities whose medical and nursing schools with cooperating hospitals are located away from the campus. It follows, therefore, that the construction and operation of a school of nursing or a medical school together with a cooperating hospital, is a proper and a natural use of a university campus.

 To move Sibley Hospital to the proposed location would also advance the welfare of its patients. They would find themselves in a pleasant, airy section of the city, in suburban-like surroundings, with a beautiful, peaceful outlook, overlooking numerous ...


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